Bounty hunters track Sonora man

Modesto bounty hunters delivered a "most wanted" Sonora man to the Tuolumne County Jail on Monday after tracking him to a small Idaho town where he'd hidden for months, they said.

Sonora police had been looking for Timothy Owen Jones Jr., 21, since last fall when he didn't show up for court. He had outstanding felony warrants on charges of domestic violence, child endangerment and making terrorist threats, said Sonora police Lt. Mark Stinson.

In June 2006, Tuolumne County sheriff's deputies arrested Jones after a woman with facial injuries reported he had beaten her and her young son. There also were allegations that he had threatened her, sheriff's Lt. Dan Bressler said, and allegations of violence toward pets.

Authorities publicized Jones as one of their "most wanted" criminals in January, after he didn't show up for court to face the charges.

In the end, however, it was bounty hunters who found Jones and returned him to jail.

"As long as (bounty hunters) follow the rules, we're happy to get these people any way we can get them," Bressler said. "Somebody has to go get these people. And we don't have the resources sometimes to do it. They have a financial stake in this. Money can be quite motivating. We don't get paid when we arrest people."

Come late September, if Jones failed to make it to court, Modesto's Garcia Family Bail Bonds would have been forced to pay Jones' full bond of $35,000.

Jones at first seemed like a "good bond," said business co-owner Mark Garcia. Jones' family was local and his father signed the bail contract promising payment of 10 percent of the bond and compliance with court appearances. Ten percent is the standard fee bail bond companies take in return for their services.

Jones' family could not be reached for comment.

Family business

The company, which has been in business for 13 years, has $25 million to $30 million promised in bail, Garcia said. Garcia owns the business with his wife, Angela Garcia, seen in signs around town as "Bail Bond Girl."

Basically, he said, it's a loan company. Before posting bond, he verifies employment, checks assets and collects information on co-signers. It takes 20 to 30 minutes to process bail contracts.

Those who sign the contracts put up property as collateral. Liens on houses are a common way to guarantee payment, but the company also takes boats, guns, cash, cars and jewelry to ensure its investment.

"We don't charge for storage," Garcia said, laughing.

Contracts promise court appearances, allow extradition from other states and guarantee payment of any expenses connected with finding defendants if they run. The company has had to go as far as Florida to find people who have jumped bail. Most often, Garcia said, people just move a few towns away.

"When they jump state, usually they have something real serious," he said. Jones could face at least eight years of incarceration for his crimes, according to Sonora police. "That's what (Jones said) scared him off," Garcia added.

Jones never made it to court. In December, Garcia started looking for him. Garcia Family Bail Bonds followed tips from San Jose to San Diego and Soulsbyville, in the foothills.

Last Friday, he got a tip that Jones had been living in Spirit Lake, Idaho, a town of about 1,500 that is 33 miles east of Spokane, Wash. Garcia and another bounty hunter, Robert McMillen, took the next flight to Spokane and started the hunt, he said.

Sometimes bounty hunters offer rewards for tips. Other times, people share information because they're afraid of getting in trouble for helping someone run from the law, Garcia said. Bounty hunters also interview family members and friends to find a wanted man. They run Social Security numbers, search MySpace.com and scour telephone records for clues.

Garcia and his partner spent two days following leads between Spirit Lake, Coeur d'Alene and Athol, Idaho. They showed photographs of Jones to neighbors, passed out fliers, talked to law enforcement and staked out skate parks, since they knew Jones was a semiprofessional BMX biker.

They soon discovered that Jones had an aunt in Spirit Lake who sometimes stayed in Athol, so they trolled Athol's streets looking for her green Pontiac Grand Prix. They didn't find the car, but knew where she lived in Spirit Lake. Eventually, they found her at home.

They confronted her about Jones. She first denied she knew where he was. When Garcia explained that she could be arrested if she didn't cooperate, then called local police to prove it, she helped bounty hunters find her nephew.

No struggle, just surprise

Jones had been staying inside a trailer in a shop building in a rural area of Athol. Spirit Lake police escorted the bounty hunters to the property, lights and sirens blaring.

About 11:15 p.m., taking the mile-long dirt road to the shop, the bounty hunters kicked in the trailer door. They'd heard that there were two pit bulls inside and didn't want to take any chances that Jones might grab a weapon. They found Jones inside with his pregnant girlfriend and the woman's father, Garcia said.

Jones was wearing only pants and had been sleeping since 8 p.m., since his job as a maintenance man at a golf course required him to start his shift at 5 a.m. There was no struggle, Garcia said, just surprise.

"He shrugged his shoulders. His girlfriend's father was right there, and he just said 'Sorry' to him," Garcia said. "He looked dumbfounded, like, 'How did they find me in the middle of nowhere?' "

The bounty hunters brought Jones back to Modesto on Monday morning. They drove him to Sonora that afternoon, where he was booked into county jail. Jones has a no-bail hold out of Santa Clara County for battery, said Bressler, the Tuolumne County sheriff's lieutenant.

Garcia Family Bail Bonds will seek repayment from Jones for its search expenses, including $1,600 for last weekend's trip, and for money Jones failed to pay for his bail bond fee; his family paid $2,000 of $3,500, Garcia said.

"If we don't get it, it's just a loss, but it's better than paying $35,000," he said. They also plan to work with the Tuolumne County district attorney's office to file aiding and abetting charges against Jones' parents. Garcia believes they helped him flee and did not cooperate during the search.

Searches like this happen just three or four times a year for the bail bond company. They can be exhausting, said Garcia, who added that he'd barely slept since Friday.

"You have a lot of anxiety feelings up and down throughout the case. There are so many dead ends," he said. "After you make the arrest, there's some sense of satisfaction. But you get to talking to the guy and you realize he's a person. He's a human being. Everybody deserves a chance, but he has to deal with this court problem. We're not here to judge. That's up to the courts."

Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at eraguso@modbee.com or 578-2235.